Mysterious Package Company and Narrative of Objects


Last year, I interviewed the spokesman of the Mysterious Package Company about their Kickstarted project The Century Beast. The company was doing a form of object-based storytelling that struck me as really fascinating, though — as they also encouraged secrecy around their projects — it was hard to get exact details about what one could expect.

Since then, their Kickstarter has been successful and they’ve been sending out Century Beast packages. I bought a Bronze version of that experience for myself, less deluxe but also less exceptionally expensive than some of the other tiers of the experience. I’ve also heard from a few other people who bought MPC products after reading my interview. I’ve come away thinking the idea is still pretty interesting but that the execution is a mix of excellent, the less-than-excellent, and the problematic.

I’d like to talk about all of that, though I’m conscious of the need not to spoil too much, so I’ll avoid specifics as I do when writing about escape rooms.

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Bring Out Your Dead: Interface

Bring Out Your Dead is a jam I ran for defunct WIPs, over the week around summer solstice. It is now complete, and you can see the 89 entries. Not all of these are interactive fiction: being on itch meant that the jam attracted a number of not-even-slightly IF projects, from a hexagonal Tetris variant to a bullet-hell shoot-em-up to Conflux, a 3D puzzle game about getting the right perspective on your environment.

Providing any kind of coverage of all 89 works is more than I can do, but I did want to look at a few concept trend over the next few days, starting with experiments in storytelling interface.

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Interactive Comics Prototype (Carl Muckenhoupt) is an interactive comic where changes in one panel instantly propagate forward to later panels. That means it’s possible to explore a Time Cave-structured story extensively without moving on from a single page.

What would this look like for a longer structure? I could imagine each strip being itself a node in a larger tree; I could also imagine a game where you’re actually working your way backwards, trying to open up earlier panels so that you could exercise greater and greater agency, in the style of 18 Rooms to Home. I would definitely play more of something like this.

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IF and Other Media

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June 14, the Oxford/London IF Meetup had talks from three speakers. First up was Tory Hoke of Sub-Q Magazine, who Skyped in from Los Angeles to talk about the process of founding and edition for Sub-Q. She gave us some background on how she got started, how she decided on the pay rate they currently use at Sub-Q, and a bit about the collaborative process.

Next we heard from Derek Moody, whose whodunnitmanor project is designed to facilitate multi-player mystery games, where the author has created clues and information for each player to discover at each turn. Different characters have different expertise, as one might expect in a mystery dinner party set-up, and they can decide what to share with one another during any given turn. When the players think they’ve figured out who is guilty, they can vote — which makes this partly a game of persuasion, like Werewolf, in which the guilty party is trying to pass off attention to everyone else.

Moody also talked about how his system is designed to support players who might not feel sure what they want to do, and how automated features take over if a player disconnects or skips out on the game — always issues in a multiplayer IF context.

Both Derek and Tory are currently seeking writers.

Finally, we heard from Nathan Penlington about his Choose Your Own Documentary project. Penlington is a collector of CYOA-style books — his blog documents many choice-based artifacts of all kinds — and at one point he bought numbers 1-106 of the original CYOA series in a single lot on eBay. When his set arrived, he found that the books contained notes from a Terence Prendergast, and several handwritten diary pages. He became fascinated with the question of what had happened to Terence and where he was now, so he made a documentary about the process of trying to track Terence down. The documentary itself was then performed in front of a live audience equipped with voting clickers so that they could respond to choice points in the story. So, to recap: Choose Your Own Documentary is a choice-based performance that is itself about the Choose Your Own Adventure series, as well as several people who became fascinated with them.

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IF Only column on Rock Paper Shotgun

I’m pleased to say that Rock Paper Shotgun has invited me to do a fortnightly column on interactive fiction. For those who aren’t familiar with RPS, they’re a gaming site focused on PC games. They’ve often given coverage to interactive fiction in the past, listing Comp highlights or tucking some IF releases into larger lists of freeware games. They decided to go bigger, though, so they’ve given me a pretty broad scope to cover whatever IF works, authors, and events might interest RPS readers. This is awesome of them.

In practice, that means that I’ll be writing about the same amount as before, but that some news, reviews, game lists, and analysis will wind up at RPS rather than on this blog — and thus in front of a much larger readership.

But you can still expect to see fresh material appearing here, including link roundups, craft and technique discussions, IF Meetup event reports, reviews of mobile IF that wouldn’t be a good RPS fit, and so on. And I’ll link across from here to my IF Only content, in case you find that an easier way to track what I’m writing.

Mid-June Link Assortment


July 2 the SF Bay IF Meetup gets together at 1 PM.

July 3, the Oxford/London Meetup has a WIP exchange meeting in Oxford. We keep a low ceiling on attendance for these because we don’t have time or room to go into too many games in detail in one afternoon, but waitlist spots do sometimes open up, so feel free to sign up if you’re interested.

Further in the future, there are a couple events that might take some planning to get to:

Felicity Banks is organizing an IF writers’ get-together in Melbourne in September.

September 10-11, Guildford, UK, the Always the Sun festival will feature a crowdsourced interactive fiction project.

Competitions and Jams

Once again the Future of Storytelling Prize is awarding $10K. To me, it looks likely to favor fairly glossy, video-like projects over traditional IF or games, but I suppose you never know.

Much sooner and with much lower stakes, Bring Out Your Dead opens for entries June 18. This is an opportunity to share unfinished, abandoned or experimental work that you think others in the IF community might like to know about.

If your WIP is more alive than dead, on the other hand, you might be interested in Introcomp, a competition for the opening sections of non-commercial IF works. Introcomp has been running for fourteen years now, and offers a chance to get some early player feedback about how well your hook is working, what is promising or otherwise about the gameplay, etc.

New Releases

I released a small parser puzzle game set in the universe of Brain Guzzlers from Beyond! called The Mary Jane of Tomorrow. If you like procedural text generation and/or fanfic of existing IF works, it might interest you.

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Teviot is a Twine piece by Hannah Nicklin that came out in May, but I didn’t hear about it then. It’s about (among other things) demographics and daily life and the history and present of unionization in one of the poorer bits of the UK.

Kevin Gold (Choice of Robots) has a new ancient-history-themed game out, Choice of Alexandria. I haven’t checked it out yet, but approve the theme.

Simon Christiansen’s wordplay puzzle IF PataNoir is now available on Steam, complete with an updated interface and illustrations.

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